LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Jefferson County leaders met Wednesday at the Healing Place to announce the county’s support of Stepping Up, a national initiative to reduce the number of people in jail with mental illness.

The National Association of Counties started Stepping Up in 2015. Jefferson County was one of the first counties in the country pledge its support over three years ago.

“Over the last three years, Louisville Metro Council has been taking many steps to support programs that help us battle mental health issues,”  said Metro Council President Pro Tem Cheri Bryant Hamilton

Jefferson County Circuit Court Clerk David Nicholson said the initiative is designed to spread awareness in order to encourage more public and private support, resources and funding for different data-driven, action-based programs.

“It’s saying we can do more,” Nicholson said. “We can provide, and we can do better in serving this population.”

Nicholson said 25 percent of the Metro Corrections population is on some sort of psychotropic medication. He said many of the inmates with mental illness are brought in “usually on low level crimes,” and supporting more programs to keep the non-violent mentally ill inmates out of jail could help relieve overcrowding concerns at Metro Corrections.

Metro Council funded a pilot project called the Living Room, a facility run by Centerstone where mental health and addiction patients can find shelter, clothing and connections for therapy or other services. According to Metro Corrections, since January 2018, corrections officers have brought 90 people to the Living Room from the jail.

Bryant Hamilton said Metro Council intends to fully fund the Living Room this coming year.

“The Metro Council is putting our money where our mouth is,” she said.

Another group helping divert people from jail is the Healing Place, which is expanding its services by building bigger buildings. The Healing Place can house 700 men and women every night but has to turn away around 250. With the expansion, the center expects to be able to serve more than 1,000 people every day. Managers said these services save the city $13 million every year.

Metro Corrections already provides services for those with mental illness. Assistant Director Steve Durham said Centerstone has an office inside the jail to help identify any mental health needs. The jail also refers appropriate inmates to the Living Room.

Durham said the jail also creates discharge plans for those with mental health concerns, substance use disorders or housing insecurities. Since July 2015, staff connected about 1,300 inmates leaving jail with local groups to continue their therapy or other rehabilitation.

Metro Council unanimously approved a resolution last week to support Stepping Up and declare May 16 Louisville’s Stepping Up Day of Action.

Leaders say what the Healing Place and Centerstone are doing is a model for the rest of Kentucky. And Nicholson said counties across the country are looking to replicate what Louisville is doing.

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